Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Holder on Mandatory Minimums: Ask Questions!

On March 11, 1999, Eric Holder, serving as the Deputy Attorney General for Bill Clinton held a press conference. Along the way, there was this exchange

QUESTION: In the last couple of weeks there has been renewed dialogue about mandatory minimum sentences. Some conservative groups and some traditionally thought of as liberal groups are both saying that the mandatory minimums are not working, they are filling jails unnecessarily. Is the administration fairly well satisfied that mandatory minimums are good idea? Or will you try -- will this administration try again in the coming Congress to take another look at mandatory minimums?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I do not think that we should ever foreclose the possibility that we take a look at how the laws that we have passed are working. I tend to think that mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things. I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask.

I do not go into it with a presumption that they're necessarily bad, but we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences?

Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask. And as thinking legislators on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, I would hope that we would ask those questions and then go into it with an open mind.
PardonPower suggest no serious confirmation process for Mr. Holder would be complete without this question: "You have had almost a decade to 'take a look' and 'ask questions' about mandatory minimums, with an 'open mind.' Now tell us what you have learned!

See full transctipt of the press conference here.

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